When You’re a Hiring Newbie

The Evil HR Lady has tips for getting it right the first time

Back Article Jul 1, 2014 By Suzanne Lucas

I’m an accountant for a small start up in Sacramento — not an HR manager. But, as often happens, HR issues tend to fall on someone, and that someone is me. The current team has been here since the beginning; we started the place. But now we need to hire someone. A stranger. How do I start?

Many other small-business owners have faced the same scary first hire.  And to make it even scarier, while technically you can fire someone for any reason or no reason at all, in reality it’s very difficult to let someone go, legally and emotionally.

So you want to get the right person in right at the beginning. Here’s how to go about it.

Write a thorough job description. This is not where you focus on fluffy statements about your company’s culture. This is where you sit down and hash out exactly what you want this person to accomplish. Put down the big, overarching tasks as well as those little annoying chores. If this person will be expected to pick up coffee for everyone, write it down.

Determine a salary range. One of the biggest mistakes small companies make is low-balling their employees. If you try to save money by hiring cheap, you’ll end up with someone without the requisite skills. If you overpay, you’ll attract too many candidates and either end up with someone overqualified and bored, or you’ll over compensate someone. If you overpay a bad employee, that person will never quit, and you’ll be stuck.

With your job description written, you need to research what other people are paying for those skills and tasks. You can either buy this information from a salary survey firm or look to resources like glassdoor.com. And, of course, you can find out through networking. Sharing this information helps everyone.

Advertise the job. Craigslist is popular with small businesses, but there are more effective options. If your company already has a page, Facebook is a great place to start. You can hit the big job boards like Monster, but the reality is, you may have better luck with local sources. Ask your current employees to talk about the job within their own circles. You may be surprised to find that your neighbor has the skills you’re looking for.

Read the resumes. The average recruiter spends less than a minute before deciding whether to reject a candidate or talk to the person further. Unless you get a hundred resumes, take a bit more time. Try not to be swayed by a pretty (or ugly) layout, unless you’re hiring a designer.

Have the hiring manager (THAT MAY BE YOU) phone screen. Why? Because the hiring manager has the best idea of what he or she needs. Phone screens should not be thorough interviews, but rather short discussions to see if it’s a good idea to find out more. Establish salary expectations by saying, “We’re looking at a salary between $50,000 and $55,000 for this position. Does that fit with your plans?” Let the person decide if that works for them, and proceed from there.

The interview. After conducting the phone screen, you’ll want to bring in candidates for an interview. (Skype works for someone out of area.) Let the candidate know, in advance, what big problems come with the role and ask that he or she come prepared with some ideas for working through them. This will give you better insight than asking, “Can you tell me about a time when…”

The background check. Hiring an outside firm is the best option for carrying out background checks. You are not hiring them to verify previous employment and education; they should be speaking with prior supervisors. Don’t reject someone based on just one bad statement from a previous manager (nobody is perfect and there are bad managers out there) but if all three references hem and haw, then it’s probably a sign the candidate won’t be a fit. Unless the job involves social media, refrain from checking out Twitter, Facebook and Vine accounts. Ask your background company to give a quick look at that to make sure the person won’t publicly embarrass the company, but you don’t need to find out things of a personal nature.

Finally, make the offer. Offers should be written, and the language of your offer needs to fit with the law. California has lots of crazy employment laws, so you’ll want to run your offer letter by your attorney, just to make sure. For instance, you don’t want to accidentally imply that you are entering into a contract with the employee. You’re not. It’s just an offer, and you want to retain the right to fire at will. 

Have a burning HR question? Email it to evilhrlady@comstocksmag.com.


Mia (not verified)August 9, 2014 - 3:10pm

As a job seeker, I really appreciate the sensible tips given to employers in this article. The only thing I would disagree with, if this is what the article actually meant to imply, is not listing the salary or salary range in the original job posting, since that will weed out prospective applicants whose minimum salary requirement exceeds the salary that the employer is willing to pay. Similarly, it also prevents job seekers from wasting their time applying for jobs that do not meet their minimum salary requirement.

Personally, I no longer respond to job postings without a salary or salary range, since it has been my experience that it is usually left out by employers who are not willing to pay a competitive salary. On the other hand, I don't respond to job postings that include a salary or salary range if it lacks a proper job description, either.

Aileen Walthrop (not verified)August 11, 2014 - 8:06am

I've completely given up on searching for jobs on the big job boards, but Jobjournal.com has created a new concept that looks like a win-win for employers and job seekers. Employers can post unlimited jobs for free, and job seekers can look at all the jobs for free. The kicker is that job seekers can't see who the employer is or how to apply until they pay a small fee of 59 cents or less (I think they go as low as 44 cents if you buy a bundle). This forces the job seekers to read the descriptions more carefully to figure out if they are a good fit for the job before applying. So instead of getting blitzed by resume blasters, the employers only get serious applicants, and job seekers like me don't get lost in the shuffle. I think it's totally worth 59 cents to make sure my resume gets seen.

Job Journal also puts on excellent job fairs, called HIREvents. I've been to a couple, and was impressed that they only allow employers with real jobs to fill.

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